I recently flew from Houston to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. I experienced three empathy examples of good customer service from, gasp, an airline. Yes, I know it may seem hard to believe. There are lessons here on how to show empathy for those of us who support end-users. Two examples were with Alaska Airlines and one was with Delta. Here they are.
- The first example is with Delta Air Lines. Temperatures in Houston were very hot, hovering around 95 to 100 degrees. Just down the concourse from our gate was the gate for a Delta flight. The flight was delayed and I overheard the gate agent make an announcement saying that the food for the flight had been sitting in the hot sun. He was concerned about spoilage, so they weren’t going to load the food onto the plane. Instead, they gave each of the passengers a voucher to go get food for the flight from one of the vendors on the concourse. He was empathetic for the passengers’ long flight because he put himself in their position imagining what it would be like to go on a long flight with no food, he was compassionate in that he was aware that they would suffer and took steps to prevent their suffering, and he treated them with respect as one human to another.
- The next two empathy examples are with Alaska Airlines. Our flight left the gate on time, taxied out to the runway and sat for several minutes. The captain then made an announcement that there was a mechanical problem. He was concerned about the safety of the aircraft and wanted the maintenance crew to take a look at it. We taxied back to the gate and were told that the plane would be there long enough that the passengers could go back into the terminal if we wanted. Once inside the terminal, the captain himself made several public address announcements letting us know what the problem was, what was being done to repair it, and how long he thought it might take. I noticed several passengers approach the desk explaining their situation and in each case, the crew listened patiently, offering options when they were available. Again, the captain and the rest of the flight crew and ground crew treated us with empathy sharing our frustration at the delays, compassion and respect by being aware of our frustration, and doing an excellent job of communicating status with us, and by listening to us when we approached the agent’s desk to describe our worries.
- Finally, once the plane was repaired and we were taxiing to the runway, a small child started screaming. This child wins the award for the loudest set of vocal cords on any child anywhere! The parents were doing what they could, but the child kept screaming. When it became apparent that the child was going to continue screaming, the flight attendants walked up and down the aisle offering us earplugs to help alleviate our suffering. That’s how to show empathy!
There is nothing particularly outstanding about any of these empathy examples. I share them with you because they’re simply examples of people in the customer service field providing good customer service in times of duress. In each of these three cases, small gestures of thoughtful caring or communication made the difference between having an awful experience and instead having one that was tolerable. Obviously, none of us want to have a flight delayed and none of us want to listen to a screaming infant (especially the parents!). In the IT field, none of us want to experience a downed server, a failed printer, or a crashed hard drive. When unpleasant things happen, our ability to be human with each other, offering empathy, compassion, respect, and an ear to listen (and sometimes earplugs) really do make a difference.
For more on empathy, compassion, listening, and respect, watch this video:
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